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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Sporting News Acknowledges the ABA in All-NBA Team Announcement

For over 20 years, I have insisted that ABA statistics, records, and honors should count. In a 2007 NBCSports.com article, I discussed which players had been selected most often for All-League Teams--meaning All-ABA and All-NBA. The NFL acknowledges AFL statistics, records, and honors, and it is long overdue for the NBA to do the same regarding the ABA. 

It is refreshing to see that The Sporting News--which has had some difficulty getting its facts straight about ABA honors--listed Julius Erving as a 12-time All-League selection in its article about the 2024 All-NBA Teams. Erving is one of just a dozen players in pro basketball history who earned at least 12 All-League selections; the others are LeBron James (20), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (15), Kobe Bryant (15), Tim Duncan (15), Karl Malone (14), Shaquille O'Neal (14), Bob Cousy (12), Dirk Nowitzki (12), Hakeem Olajuwon (12), Dolph Schayes (12), and Jerry West (12).

Regarding this year's 15 All-NBA Team members, I don't have any major criticisms of the selections. I very much like the Player Participation Policy that stipulates that players who fail to play in at least 65 games cannot be selected for various postseason awards, including All-NBA. I am not a fan of positionless voting, which debuted this year; the All-NBA Team historically honored two forwards, two guards, and one center, and changing that format will make it even more challenging to make comparisons across eras. There is value in being recognized as one of the best players at each designated position, and positions still matter: no team--at least no good team--is regularly trotting out lineups with five guards or five centers. Basketball may be more position fluid than it used to be, but it is not really positionless.

One could quibble about the rankings among the 15 All-NBA players, but--other than Jaylen Brown--there is not a very strong argument that anyone who landed outside of the top 15 belonged in the top 15. I would argue that Brown should have made one of the three All-NBA Teams based not only on Brown's individual play but also his role as the second best player on a Boston team that lapped the rest of the NBA by a country mile during the regular season. It is difficult to justify placing both LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the All-NBA Team, regardless of how gaudy their individual numbers may look at first glance: how valuable were they when their combined efforts landed the L.A. Lakers in the Play-In Tournament? We need one of those Elias Sports Bureau statistics about how often a team with two All-NBA players barely qualified for the playoffs. I am also not convinced that this season Kawhi Leonard was better or more impactful on winning than Brown.

However, of more concern than any specific player who made or did not make the All-NBA Team is the reality that--because of incentive-laden contracts--these votes have a multimillion dollar impact for many players. In 2021, I noted the inherent conflict of interest when media members' votes play a significant role in determining how much money players make:

It is not an exaggeration to say that media members have significant influence over how millions of dollars will be distributed; I am not sure what the best solution is to change that situation, but there is something wrong with a player's compensation potentially being determined by whether or not a media member likes him (and if you don't think that personal bias affects awards voting then you do not understand human nature and you are willfully ignoring many overt examples of media bias for or against certain players).

Even if the media members who vote make the right selections 100% of the time--and that is demonstrably not the case--millions of dollars should not be allocated based at least in part on how popular certain players are with nationally prominent media members. LeBron James has a contingent of reporters who are little more than glorified members of his public relations team; the biggest break in their careers was tagging along with James, so they are disinclined to upset the golden goose that birthed (and sustained) their careers. There are other players who are very popular with media members, and the flip side is that there are players who media members do not like very much. Three years after I raised this concern, I still am not sure what the best solution is, but the combination of huge financial incentives for making the All-NBA Team with media members doing the voting creates an unhealthy dynamic--and another wrinkle is that there is legalized wagering regarding who will win awards, so media members are also determining how much money is won and lost by bettors (and by the sportsbooks).

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:37 AM



At Thursday, May 23, 2024 5:04:00 PM, Anonymous Michael said...

Yeah, the forward-forward-guard-guard-center voting system is much more reliable and legitimate than positionless voting, although the three All-NBA teams selected under the new format are excellent starting lineups by pure chance.

There have been some very interesting situations with the All-NBA voting and the various regular season awards. There have been four seasons where the Defensive Player of the Year did not make the All-Defensive first team: Alvin Robertson (1986), Mutombo (1995), Tyson Chandler (2012), Marc Gasol (2013).

There have also been several instances where the regular season MVP was not voted onto the All-NBA first team: Bill Russell (1958, 1961, 1962), Dave Cowens (1973).

At Thursday, May 23, 2024 8:09:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...


There have been some odd selections (and omissions) even when the same voters made all of the award selections, but it is important to remember that the media did not always vote for all of the awards, so there were times when different voting pools reached different conclusions. At one time, the Defensive Player of the Year was selected by media members but the All-Defensive Team was selected by the coaches. Similarly, in the years that you cited the players voted for the MVP but the media members selected the All-NBA First Team.


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